During this year’s Super Bowl, Coca-Cola debuted a 60-second commercial paying tribute to the diversity of our nation. Coke’s “It’s Beautiful” ad featured expansive scenes of the country and shots of a wide variety of real people. Some of them were enjoying a Coke.
It was set to “America the Beautiful” — as sung in seven different languages, including English, Spanish, Tagalog, and Hindi.
This commercial generated a profoundly negative response among conservative commentators. They reacted with hostility, fear, and even bigotry. To their discredit, these commentators revealed not only their ignorance — but also a willful refusal to accept the reality of America in the 21st century.
On his radio show, Glenn Beck termed the ad “in your face,” and an attempt to “divide people.” This is quite ironic, considering that only weeks ago Beck admitted that his Fox News program was itself divisive.
“I think I played a role, unfortunately, in helping tear the country apart,” he said. He’s right about that. His conspiracy theories, “birther” comments, and demagoguery were a far more corrosive influence on American society than any commercial ever could be.
Former Rep. Allen West also took offense at the Coke commercial.
“If we cannot be proud enough as a country to sing “American the Beautiful” [sic] in English in a commercial during the Super Bowl, by a company as American as they come — doggone we are on the road to perdition,” the Florida Republican wrote on his website.
Even though West gets the name of the song wrong, that does not stop the tea-partying politician from calling the spot “truly disturbing.” As a self-styled “Guardian of the Republic,” West might be surprised to know that our country doesn’t have an official language and that the Census Bureau reports that 381 languages are commonly spoken within our borders.
Then there’s Todd Starnes, who tweeted “Couldn’t make out that song they were singing. I only speak English.” The Fox Radio host went on to wonder, “So was Coca-Cola saying America is beautiful because new immigrants don’t learn to speak English?”
Apparently these conservatives need a decoder for this commercial. “With ‘It’s Beautiful,’ we are simply showing that America is beautiful and Coke is for everyone,” explained Katie Bayne, President of North American Brands for Coca-Cola in a statement.
By the way, new immigrants do learn English. Consider a 2012 study by the Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project that looked at language use among Latino immigrants.
While the first generation is usually only proficient in Spanish, by the second generation, the use of Spanish falls as the use of English rises. By the third generation, English is the dominant language. A separate study last year by University of Wisconsin researchers found that Latino immigrants are learning English faster than previous groups of immigrants.
It’s sad that Beck, West, Starnes and other conservative commentators don’t appreciate the richness of our multicultural society.
The fact is that our country has always been multilingual. There are 169 Native North American languages that are still spoken today, linguist Nataly Kelly notes at The Huffington Post, and several of the Founding Fathers spoke languages besides English, including John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe.
Today, 60 million Americans speak a language other than English at home. This year, for the first time, the Super Bowl was also televised in Spanish. So Coke’s commercial truly reflects our nation’s past, present, and future. What’s wrong with that?
Coca-Cola deserves praise for its inclusive Super Bowl commercial. And critics of the ad ought to think about the motto on the Great Seal of the United States: E pluribus unum. It means “Out of many, one”– — and it’s in Latin.
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and columnist in New York City.